The Diary of a Tournament Track Virginian


WFXR’s George Noleff had the rare chance to compete in a top national fishing tournament, The Cabela’s/Bass Pro/The Walleye Federation National Team Championship. He will provide daily updates to give you a first-hand account of the hardships, rigors and successes anglers find on the tournament trail.

tuesday july 26

10:57 a.m.: We are ready to hit the road. The first leg of the journey takes place today when I head north east to Ohio to meet Dan. From there we will go tomorrow to Mobridge, South Dakota. I packed for what seems like a week. First, I have to make sure I have enough clothes for two weeks. Then there is the equipment. I have a large soft tackle box and a hard case full of lures and terminal tackle. I also bring a rod that I will use for finesse or jig fishing, depending on the situation. The first leg will take me through West Virginia and Ohio. I will spend the night in Akron, Ohio tonight. I’ll update more once I get there, but I have to hit the road.

Monday July 25

I’m still in Roanoke, but packing up and preparing for the trip to Mobridge, South Dakota and Lake Oahe. Oahe is a reservoir on the Missouri River. It’s a big lake. It stretches over 230 miles from North Dakota’s capital, Bismarck, to South Dakota’s capital, Pierre. Oahe is where the Cabela’s/Bass Pro/The Walleye Federation (NTC) National Team Championship will take place next week.

Big lake on the prairie: Lake Oahe (Photo courtesy: South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources)
Map of Lake Oahe (Photo courtesy of US Army Corps of Engineers)

The Walleye Federation doesn’t mess around when it comes to choosing the waters for these championship events. You know this will always be one of the best walleye lakes or rivers in the country, and Lake Oahe is no exception. It is known for the number of walleyes it contains.

So what is a walleye? It is the largest member of the perch family in North America. They are appreciated for their combat as well as for the dishes at the table. Plain and simple, they taste great and can be cooked in any way imaginable.

We have walleyes in Virginia. They occur naturally in the New River where we have a genetic strain found only in Virginia. The New River strain is known for its size. The Staunton River, Leesville Reservoir and Philpott Reservoir also provide good walleye fishing in our area. Walleyes are among the most targeted fish in the Midwest and Great Lakes regions, and they are becoming very popular to target in the Commonwealth.

Here’s a big walleye I caught on Lake Erie (George Noleff/WFXR News)

How does an outdoor journalist in Roanoke end up fishing in a prestigious event like the Cabela’s/Bass Pro/The Walleye Federation National Team Championship (NTC)?

The short answer is a bit of luck, a bit of walleye fishing knowledge, and knowing the right people. The angler I work with is a tournament veteran by the name of Dan DeBenedictis. I have known Dan for years. Just like me originally, he’s from Ohio. I first met him in 2016 while fishing a walleye tournament in Cleveland and was a freelance journalist covering the event. We fished several times afterwards, and I even shot a video with him for a YouTube channel I operated.

The NTC is a team event. Two fishermen form a team. Dan and another partner qualified for the NTC through strong results in regional events. But, due to circumstances, the other guy can’t do the NTC, so I’m here as a substitute. It’s not a very complicated story.

Once I knew I was going to fish the event, I started doing my homework. If you’re serious about fishing any tournament, quest for knowledge should be your number one priority. Whether it’s bass, stripes, catfish, walleye, or any species, the more you know about the body of water you’re going to fish, as well as the behavior of your target, the more likely you are to succeed. That means hours of studying maps, reading as much as you can on a body of water, watching video after video, and talking with people with experience on the lake or stream.

The techniques used to catch walleye on Lake Oahe are going to be different from the techniques used to catch them on the New River or Lake Erie, or anywhere else you may find them. This is true for most species. Success is in the subtleties.

I still spend about two hours a night studying. Hopefully this bears fruit.

Now that I know a little about the techniques, it also means buying equipment specific to the way we are going to fish. That meant trips to various outdoor stores or ordering online.

I don’t want to say too much about the techniques, just yet, but one method is to drag swimbaits in and around the submerged tree cover. It will give me the opportunity to take a little Virginia with me. I plan to try the Missile Baits Shockwave.

Salem-based Shockwave Swimbait (Photo courtesy of Missile Baits)

You probably know that Missile is based in Salem and owned by John Crews. John knows himself about tournaments. He won a Bassmaster Elite Championship in Florida earlier this year. He’s a Bassmaster veteran. Although bass and walleye are different species with different behaviors, these missile shockwaves should work on walleye as well as bass. We’ll see if we can do a little “Virginia magic” in the Upper Midwest.

The other way to learn a body of water is called pre-fishing, and we will do that too. The tournament doesn’t start until Thursday August 4th, but we’ll be there early to participate in several days of pre-fishing to try and get to know the lake and learn all we can about it, look for fish aggregations, and to see if patterns develop that can put big fish in the boat. That means later this week a trip to Ohio, then an 18-hour drive, pulling a boat along the way, to South Dakota.

We invite you to travel. I will provide at least a daily update, and sometimes more, in this journal. I will also do live reports every morning on “Good Day Virginia,” as well as segments on “WFXR News at Six” and “WFXR News First at Ten.” Also keep an eye on Facebook. We will do Facebook Lives at least twice a day, where I will be happy to answer your questions live.

So there’s a lot to prepare for, a lot to cover, and a long road trip to look forward to. It’ll be fun. Glad you’re coming. Look for updates here, and we’ll see you on the water.


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